Med­i­ta­tions on the sound of si­lence

Caro­line Syl­ger Jones finds in­ner peace in the still­ness of a Ra­jasthan ho­tel that aims to cleanse body and mind

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Iam sit­ting up in bed, propped by a cas­cade of soft white pil­lows, watch­ing a yel­low In­dian sun rise over the hill­top out­side my win­dow. Man­dalas cre­ated from fresh marigold petals grace my mar­ble floor, and there are orange marigolds hand-painted on the walls to match. I am sip­ping “bed tea” – a gin­ger and black con­coc­tion left dis­creetly out­side my room that morn­ing along­side some hand-rolled oat and honey en­ergy balls – and “jour­nal­ing” my morn­ing thoughts into a Mole­sk­ine note­book, a prac­tice that helps you clear your head of thoughts, ready for the day. As my hand moves quickly across the page to let the dull, an­noy­ing and joy­ous things in my life out through ink, I feel a sense of lib­er­a­tion. Af­ter about 40 min­utes, I pause.

This is my morn­ing rit­ual each day in suite num­ber 43 at Raas De­vi­garh, a splen­did palace fortress above the large vil­lage of Del­wara in Ra­jasthan, cre­ated in 1760 and now a ho­tel with elab­o­rate ram­parts to dream on and bowls of fresh marigold and rose petals at ev­ery turn. I’m here on a five-night “ila-only” Devi Bless­ing re­treat, de­vised by Bri­tish spa brand ila to be be­spoke, pri­vate and book­able all year round for three, five or nine nights.

Named af­ter the In­dian god­dess Devi, who is be­lieved to rep­re­sent all women, the re­treats aim to re­cal­i­brate your whole sys­tem. They in­clude daily two-hour treat­ments and two daily one-to-one (op­tional) ses­sions of yoga and med­i­ta­tion. You can also choose, as I have, to be sup­ported in a pe­riod of si­lence.

Si­lence has been prac­tised in al­most all monas­tic tra­di­tions as a way of slow­ing down, re­con­nect­ing with the self and im­prov­ing men­tal and phys­i­cal health, and an in­creas­ing num­ber of re­treats in the West are in­clud­ing it as part of their menu. While be­ing in si­lence can give us a real sense of peace, what’s more ben­e­fi­cial is the space it of­fers to find out what is re­ally go­ing on in our bod­ies and minds, away from ev­ery­day chat­ter and ac­tiv­ity.

It’s im­por­tant that we choose our si­lence, as the an­cient desert her­mits would have done, so that we feel in con­trol of it and able to use it to our ad­van­tage rather than dis­ap­pear­ing into a lonely space. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced re­treats in si­lence be­fore, but they’ve been Bud­dhist in flavour and al­ways com­mu­nal, when you are sup­ported in an or­gan­ised set­ting and nour­ished by the en­ergy of a group. My sec­u­lar and soli­tary si­lence at Raas De­vi­garh is un­der­stand­ably and no­tably dif­fer­ent. I’ve pre-or­dered my meals, dis­cussed my daily timetable with yoga and med­i­ta­tion teacher Faraz, been en­cour­aged to jour­nal each morn­ing on ris­ing, and then sent gen­tly into si­lence for three of my five nights.

I quite quickly slip into a sooth­ing rou­tine of jour­nal­ing, yoga, break­fast, treat­ment, down time, med­i­ta­tion, sup­per and bed. I find that be­cause I am alone, Faraz’s in­tel­li­gent and em­pa­thetic pres­ence is vi­tal to the success of my re­treat. He re­minds me to be “mind­ful” – to try to be aware of what I’m do­ing when I’m do­ing it and in the present mo­ment – and I can talk to him about any prac­ti­cal con­cerns I might have at any time.

On Bud­dhist re­treats, you are re­quired not to read, draw or write, but I find that my read­ing, sketch­ing and jour­nal­ing here are a much­needed so­lace and form of mind­ful­ness. Be­ing able to in­dulge in them be­comes part of the plea­sure of be­ing silent at a ho­tel rather than on an or­gan­ised re­treat. I am, how­ever, en­tirely happy – one might say in­fin­itely joy­ous – to switch off my iPhone and com­puter.

Af­ter jour­nal­ing each day I choose to do my own yoga prac­tice on the palace’s won­der­ful top ram­parts, with ro­man­tic views of the colour­ful vil­lage and coun­try­side be­yond. I’m of­ten joined by a band of lime-green para­keets, who perch on the rail­ings and joy­ously screech each time I move into a pose as if to say, “Hey guys! Just take a look at this one over here!” Guests new to yoga can in­stead have a pri­vate ses­sion with Faraz.

Next is a break­fast of a “pure al­ka­line” juice such as cel­ery, cu­cum­ber and gin­ger, along­side a turmeric latte (very yummy), a huge pot of green tea, and eggs if I’m hun­gry, served cour­te­ously on the res­tau­rant ter­race by smil­ing white-suited wait­ers while I lis­ten to an In­dian flautist play in the spa gar­den be­low and fo­cus on sketch­ing to fil­ter out the gen­tle chat­ter of guests.

At 10.30am I saunter to the ila-only spa, which is grace­fully clad in mar­ble, wood and pale green cush­ions strewn with ila’s sig­na­ture heart chakra de­sign. Here I en­joy a light steam and a chill in the salt cave stacked with Hi­malayan rock salt (I test it – it’s real) be­fore an 11am, two-hour “Devi Bless­ing”. Cho­sen af­ter a con­sul­ta­tion to work on re­bal­anc­ing which­ever of my chakras ap­pear most out of whack, most of the treat­ments pivot on a scrub and a mas­sage and are in­fin­itely re­lax­ing and of­ten sleepin­duc­ing. I am espe­cially in­trigued by the Prayer of the Earth, which is timetabled on my first day to ground me af­ter the long jour­ney, and re­quires me to sit on a “smok­ing stool” while frank­in­cense burns be­neath my in­ner­most parts be­fore I lie down for a de­li­ciously deep, slow body rub.

I spend most af­ter­noons hor­i­zon­tal, sun­bathing and read­ing, or swim­ming mul­ti­ple lengths in the huge black­mar­bled pool. The call to prayer from Del­wara at around 4.15pm rouses me to go back to my room and pot­ter be­fore chang­ing for an early evening re­lax­ation ses­sion of Yoga Nidra, Yin Yoga, med­i­ta­tion or chant­ing with Faraz. My favourite place for these is The Ram Room, a charm­ing, open­sided room named af­ter the Hindu story of Rama and Sita, where the walls are scrawled with an el­e­gant, an­cient script – the hand­i­work of the

I do my yoga on the ram­parts, joined by limegreen para­keets

CURES FOR THE SOUL Com­fort and beauty help guests find mind­ful­ness

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